Sunday, October 23, 2016

Weekend Adventure {Ireland}

Last weekend was my birthday and to celebrate, we decided to go to Ireland.  It was just a weekend away so we packed a lot in to two full days.  Because we wanted to see more than just Dublin, we opted to stay outside of the city and rent a car.

I highly recommend renting a car in Ireland; it allows you to see so much more on your own schedule.  BUT they drive on the left (other side) of the road, so be warned.  Lucky for us, I had gotten some practice at driving on the left side when I was in Australia a few years back, so I was driver for this trip.  It's not hard, just takes some getting used to and I would recommend paying a little more for an automatic.  We were brave and rented a car seat and it turned out great!

We stayed in Bray, Ireland at an adorable hotel.  Bray is about an hour south of Dublin and has a train station that takes you directly to downtown Dublin (one of the main reasons we chose this town).  We didn't know much about Bray prior to arriving but we totally fell in love.  It reminded us so much of the West Seattle area -- where we used to live.  A huge park with a boardwalk along the rocky beach complete with stores and restaurants and just like in Seattle, when the sun was out, so was everyone in the whole town!  They had an amazing kids park that was gated in so the kids could play without parents having to worry about them running away!  And great Irish pubs that we ate at each night.  Such a great town!

So, our first day (my birthday!) we decided to explore the countryside, specifically the Wicklow Mountains.  Our first stop, in the pouring rain, was Glendalough.  When we first arrived, we saw so many people in full hiking gear and we got a little scared, but decided to venture out anyways.  A quick stop at the visitors center led us in the right direction -- a short (paved) walk to the Monastic City which is a Christian monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin.  It was actually quite cool to see and it had amazing views of the surrounding area. 

We then made our way to the lake which was gorgeous.  I can only imagine during a sunny day the lake would be amazing.... But given that we don't really have a fall season in Spain, I was loving the blustery and rainy weather along with all the different colored leaves!  Serafina was very excited to be seeing water and kept telling anyone who would listen "it's water!"

We opted to wear Serafina on the short "hike" to the monastic city and lake (its about 2 miles round trip).  However, we saw plenty of people with strollers, along the paved path to the lake.  We learned later that the reason we saw so many people in hiking gear was that this area was the starting point for many trails in the area, so most of those people were locals.  The tourists typically stick to the monastic city and the lake.  

After Glendalough, we made our way down the mountain to Powerscourt Estate.  The house was built in the 1730s, but most people go for the gardens (created during the Victorian era).  You can enter the grounds of the estate for free, but you pay to enter the gardens.  The estate has a hotel/spa and a golf course -- pretty sure I need to go back as a girls trip!  We ate a quick lunch in the adorable (but busy) cafe before making our way to the gardens which were gorgeous.  We took the stroller and Serafina fell asleep, so Trevor and I were able to wander around at our own pace, it was quite nice.  Once again, everything was stunning!  Once Serafina woke up, she loved running around and of course, playing in the dirt.

The next day started out a little rough, our Peanut woke up at 4am and refused to go back to sleep despite some massive effort on our part!  But we made the best of it and headed into Dublin for the day.  We took the train which was super easy and very fun as it went along the coast.

Our first stop was Trinity College for a tour led by a student.  Trinity was founded in 1592 and has long been Ireland's most prestigious school.  I thoroughly enjoyed the tour while Trevor spent the majority of it running after our little one who thought Trinity had the best ramps and stairs she had ever seen!  (Serafina was in one of her "daddy only" moods!)

Of course you can't head to Trinity without seeing the Book of Kells and the Old Library.  The Book of Kells is a 1200 year old illustrated version of four gospels of the Bible.  So, while the Book of Kells is definitely worthwhile to see, be aware that it's a little crazy to get there.  You're herded into a few rooms leading up to the Book where you get to wait in line as they seemed to only let a certain number of people in at a time.  Then you have to push your way up to the glass case holding the Book to actually see it -- again, it's pretty amazing and you should see it.  Then you get to climb stairs (no elevator that we could find) up to the old library... and this place was amazing! Literally books floor to ceiling and all categorized by weight and size -- not by author or genre!  You'll also find the oldest surviving Irish harp (a national icon, even today) from the 15th century.

This was the only truly non-stroller friendly place that we encountered.  Lots of people, lots of stairs and no elevator that we could find.  But with that said, plenty of people offered to help us carry the stroller up and down the stairs and many entertained our Peanut while we waited to see the Book!  Once inside the room, Trevor and I took turns watching the stroller in the corner and looking at the book.  And no pictures allowed within the Book of Kells portion -- its also very dark to preserve the book, so not even sure pictures would turn out!

We then decided to explore the city a little.  Serafina fell asleep in the stroller and we knew she needed to sleep as long as possible so... we just kept walking!  We ate an on-the-go lunch and walked through Temple Bar area (known for shops, pubs and live music), past the post office (where the 1916 Easter Uprising started (it led to Irish independence)) and up to the Garden of Remembrance (honoring victims of the 1916 Uprising) and continued walking throughout a nice rain storm.  

I would recommend walking to the Post Office, but I could have easily skipped the Garden of Remembrance.  We also opted to not do any beer or whiskey tours since we had Serafina with us.  Instead we just enjoyed the beer and whiskey in the pubs which was perfect for us!

Eventually our little woke up and we got her lunch, then let her run around some of the pedestrian-only shopping streets while Trevor and I did a little shopping.  At this point, Trevor and I were exhausted since we'd been up since 4am (and didn't get a long nap like our little one) so we ended up heading back to Bray.

Sadly, because Trevor and I were so tired, we couldn't fully enjoy Dublin but we were still happy with what we were able to see.  And overall, we greatly enjoyed Ireland.  We enjoyed the beer at each meal (Guinness does taste better in Ireland), the good pub food, the Irish charm, the green country and the beautiful countryside.  And the English language!  I hope to get back to Ireland one day, but if not, I am so happy I was able to get there for a quick trip -- and such a fun way to celebrate my birthday!

Toddler Travel Tips:
I was shocked at how child-friendly Ireland is -- every place except for the Book of Kells has easily accessible lifts/elevators or ramps as well as many places having changing tables and high chairs.  This was the first area/city where we saw MANY other families out with their children -- families were even the majority at Powerscourt.  Who knows if they were tourists or not, but it was wonderful to finally not be the only people having the crazy toddler running around!  I was happy we had both our stroller and Ergo, both were used and came it handy at various times.  Many places offered children's menus or at least adapted orders for us without any complaint (and one place even gave us crayons and paper for Serafina to color).  But very similar to Spain, many people stopped us and asked us about Serafina and interacted with her and praised us for traveling with a toddler!

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